House reps panel

Photo courtesy of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce

A panel of Colorado's U.S. congressional representatives discussed the state's recent successes and current issues at a Colorado Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday in Denver.

U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter, Diana DeGette, Doug Lamborn, Joe Neguse and Jason Crow answered questions about trade deals, the economy and Colorado's growth at the event, held at the Brown Palace.

The panel was first asked about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement (USMCA), otherwise known as NAFTA 2.0, which could have significant impact on Colorado, considering the nearly 12,000 jobs supported in the state by exports to Canada and Mexico.

DeGette said that updating the NAFTA agreement is "desperately" needed.

“I have always believed its important for our state and our country to have good trade policies," DeGette said.

However, she noted that her main concern with the agreement is the possible extension of patent exclusivity for pharmaceutical companies, which could raise the cost of prescriptions.

The discussion turned to Gov. Jared Polis' reinsurance plan, designed to lower premiums for individuals buying insurance on the state health care exchange. The plan recently received federal approval.

Lamborn wanted to remind everyone of the price of these kind of programs.

“It is a cost shift either to healthier people or the taxpayers,” Lamborn said. However, he agreed with other panelists that change in the healthcare industry is needed.

“There is a societal consensus that people with preexisting conditions or severe health issues need to have some kind of coverage," he added.

Along with the discussion of Colorado's booming economy, Perlmutter touched on the state's management of population growth. He brought up Lakewood's recent decision to limit the city's residential growth, and noted that he believed decisions like that can lead to a "softening" of economy.

"We need to continue the growth of our economy to try to continue to attract good business to our state, because things will slow down," he said.

Part of encouraging that growth is making sure young people have plenty of educational opportunities, the entire panel agreed. Trade schools and apprenticeships can be viable alternatives to four-year programs, they stated.

“The traditional notion that you go to college and you work the same job for 20 or 30 years, that's not gonna be the case for most of our young folks,” Crow said. “So instead of a linear pipeline, we need to have a career mosaic.”

Neguse, who attended University of Colorado Boulder, noted even with the alternative options, he is still a "big believer' in four-year degrees.

“We've got to do a better job of making higher education more accessible and affordable,” he said.

The discussion shifted to immigration after the president of Metropolitan State University asked the panel how she can help give hope to students at her school who are members of the DACA program and are "terrified" of losing their placement.

"We need comprehensive immigration reform in this country,” DeGette said. “We need to have a bipartisan conversation with the business community about how we're gonna make this work."

Neguse, whose parents were immigrants from East Africa, voiced support for the passage of HR 6, currently pending in the U.S. Senate. The bill would help provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.

The panelists found notes of agreement with each other throughout the discussion.

“We really do work hard collectively; Democrats and Republicans ... to make sure when we're representing our state to show a united front, and we're really really proud of that," DeGette said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story erroneously quoted Rep. Ed Perlmutter as calling the USMCA a "no-brainer" and voicing his agreement. However, Rep. Perlmutter was referring to a different matter, according to his communications team. Therefore, the quote has been removed from the article.

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